US Labor Department's multi-year initiative aims to protect wages and rights of janitorial workers in Washington state
Statewide effort will educate employers about their responsibilities
SEATTLE More than three-quarters of janitorial service companies investigated nationally by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division in the past two fiscal years failed to pay low-wage workers fairly and legally for the work they do. Of the division's 1,221 janitorial industry investigations, 76 percent resulted in violations and led to the recovery of $7.9 million in unpaid wages for nearly 10,000 workers.
To combat the problem in Washington State, the division's Seattle District Office is undertaking a robust, multi-year enforcement and outreach initiative to educate the industry and identify employers that violate laws governing minimum wage or overtime pay, or fail to pay laborers for all hours worked. In addition to its targeted enforcement effort, the initiative includes significant outreach and employer engagement with key industry, government and community stakeholders to inform them of the initiative and to increase awareness about labor law compliance obligations.
"The janitorial industry has become one of the most fissured in the nation. Contracts for janitorial services that were once given to a single firm that directly employed workers now have layers of subcontractors," said Ruben Rosalez, the division's regional administrator in San Francisco. "We see situations where even individual workers are misclassified as independent contractors. This business model often creates downward economic pressure throughout the levels of subcontractors, creating conditions that are ripe for wage violations."
Prior investigations of the industry nationwide have uncovered unlawful pay practices aimed at increasing company profits, at the expense of workers' wages and working conditions. Investigators have found that some employers unlawfully misclassify janitorial employees as independent contractors, depriving them of their basic rights to minimum wage, overtime pay and other employment benefits. Other common violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act include failure to pay workers for all hours worked, failure to maintain accurate and complete records of workers' wages and work hours and failure to pay time and one-half for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek.
Under this initiative, Seattle District Office investigators will visit Washington retail stores and other businesses to ensure janitorial workers are paid in compliance with federal laws. In addition, investigators will check for compliance with the record-keeping, hours worked, child labor and anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA. When violations are found, the division will pursue corrective action, including litigation and the assessment of liquidated damages and civil money penalties, to recover workers' wages and ensure legal compliance.
"The launch of this initiative signals the department's clear commitment to strengthening compliance in the janitorial industry, and to promoting prosperity for workers and employers alike through compliance outreach," said Tuan Huynh, acting district director for the division's Seattle District Office. "Everybody wins when we all play by the same rules. Through stringent enforcement of labor laws and collaboration with our state and community partners and other stakeholders, we are determined to promote long-lasting compliance and level the marketplace's playing field."
Under the FLSA, employers must distinguish employees from bona fide independent contractors.The inquiry to determine a worker's status as employee or independent contractor is whether the worker, as a matter of economic reality, is dependent on the employer or in business for himself. For more information, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs13.htm.
The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also must maintain accurate time and payroll records.
For more information about federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Seattle District Office at 206-398-8039. Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.